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VOL. 127 | NO. 183 | Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Difference of Opinion

Groups looking to redevelop Vance area at odds on future of Foote Homes

By Bill Dries

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Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s administration and a group of neighborhood leaders in the Vance Avenue area agree on highlighting the significant history of the area south of FedExForum.

St. Patrick Catholic Church is one of the landmarks in the Vance Avenue area south of FedExForum that now has two plans for its revitalization created by the Vance Avenue Collaborative and the city administration.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Some kind of trail linking up more than a dozen sights is a feature both groups are planning for the area.

But the groups part company on Foote Homes, the last large public housing project left standing in Memphis.

When the Vance Avenue Collaborative unveiled its proposal for redevelopment of the area, most of the 150 people at the standing-room-only meeting at the St. Patrick Learning Center wanted to talk about saving Foote Homes.

“The two things don’t have to be at odds,” said Ken Reardon, director of the University of Memphis graduate program in city and regional planning, which is helping the collaborative. “They can be reinforcing of each other.”

Some from the neighborhood, where many of the marches during the 1968 sanitation workers strike began, talked of switching the strike’s iconic “I Am A Man” signs for ones reading “We Are A Community.”

A sign outside the center read “Take A Stance On Your Vance.”

The group, which included leaders of the Memphis branch of the NAACP and several church congregations in the area, left the meeting with plans for a march to City Hall, possibly Oct. 16 when a City Council committee takes a look at the plan.

Several speakers at the meeting marked it as the beginning of what is the first serious opposition to the demolition of a housing project in the city. The projects began to fall in the late 1990s with federal funding under the federal HOPE VI program.

But over the years, the terms of the program have changed to include more support and transition services for public housing residents leaving the projects. Some return to the newly built mixed-use mixed-income developments.

The Vance Avenue Collaborative plan makes the case for keeping Foote Homes and keeping it occupied.

“In this case, redevelopment has to be based upon the fact that this is already a traditional neighborhood, whose street and plot morphology still reflect those principles that are often used to ‘re-create new’ that ‘looks like old,’” the report reads. “In this case there is no need to clear large sites and readjust street grids and install the full packet of required public improvements that are usually needed to transform a cleared site into a set of developable parcels.”

A parking lot off of Vance Avenue near Danny Thomas Boulevard sits empty in the rain. A plan is intended to revitalize the neighborhood south of FedExForum.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

City Housing and Community Development Director Robert Lipscomb has said the administration is also working on a renovation of Church Park as well as Clayborne-Ball Temple, an iconic church that is now being offered for sale.

The difference in the collaborative plan beyond preserving the public housing units at Foote Homes is the collaborative’s reliance on public-private institutions, including a grocery cooperative instead of a direct line to private financing and development.

The city’s efforts in past HOPE VI transformations have been to leverage federal funding to create private investment in the area. Once the private investment moves in, the city’s role generally cuts back with a reliance on market forces.

Reardon said the area is already a neighborhood that needs a lot of human services more than a new neighborhood built atop the existing one.

“We could expect that next April there would be a request for proposal for the (federal) Choice Neighborhood grant,” he said of the possibly $30 million to $35 million in funding. “It’s the first layer of what hopefully would be multiple public sources of funding as well as private investment.”

The collaborative is proposing to use the federal funding that might come for demolition of Foote Homes for a move toward better flood control in the area.

“The Little Betty Bayou was filled in. Well, the water is still there,” Reardon said. “So the second part of this plan is to create a beautifully landscaped linear park by excavating – uncovering or daylighting that long submerged bayou and make it a critical greenway amenity for that neighborhood.”

Other parts of the plan include a supermarket at Third Street and Vance Avenue or some other site nearby to start a neighborhood-oriented retail district. The anchor for the district would be a “cooperatively owned and managed food store” with complementary retail.

Reardon has been involved in hard-fought efforts to bring a conventional supermarket to the South Memphis area that led in 2010 to the creation of a farmers market farther south of Vance Avenue, at South Parkway and Mississippi Boulevard.

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